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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 21, 2002

Waimea Falls Park lease may be extended four months

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

The City Council Budget Committee granted a four-month lease extension to the company managing 1,875-acre Waimea Falls Park after more than 20 community members argued against a proposed one-year extension.

The administration said it would need at least four months to find a permanent operator and complete the condemnation and procurement process for the park. Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom said he would like to keep the management in place on a month-to-month basis to maintain the park after the current contract expires in February, but the city could ask for a further extension at the end of the four months in June. The resolution to extend for four months will go before the full Council for final approval on Dec. 4.

Several former volunteers and employees objected to allowing Waimea Management LLC to continue operating the park, claiming that under the management of Ray Greene, the botanical gardens and historical sites have been neglected.

"He has neglected the site to the point of disrespect to the Hawaiian culture and history," said Lee Ann Duque, a member of the Waialua Civic Club and Stewards of Waimea Valley.

David Orr, who recently resigned as curator of the park citing personal reasons, said that the grounds still need more maintenance and "we have lost precious plants that we can't replace."

Greene, who is in Florida for a theme park association conference, said he disagrees with the representation. "The people that are making the accusations are not the people who are working in the park on a day-to-day basis. They are not putting their resources into the park," he said.

"Basically you have activists who are talking a good game, but are not necessarily playing a good game."

He said the plant loss was part of the natural attrition rate.

Responding to criticism over plans to turn the park into an adventure theme park, Greene said that while the company was considering adding amusements to keep it economically viable the park's "base products" would continue to be water, the botanical gardens and Hawaiian culture. Any additions would be appropriate to the environment, he said.

The city has deposited $5.1 million in escrow to acquire the park in a condemnation process and had planned to choose a bidder by February 2003. However, ownership of the park is still in question and the eminent domain proceedings scheduled for July of this year have been postponed until January. East Coast developer Christian Wolffer acquired the site in 1996 and placed the property under bankruptcy protection in April 2001 and the courts have not yet decided the case.

While waiting to condemn the property, the city has requested bids for a permanent park operator and is apparently considering either Greene's organization or the National Audubon Society.

The budget committee also approved a bill that will allow the administration to award a long-term lease based on a comparative evaluation of proposals, which would include quality and contractual factors instead of solely the highest financial returns. The city also would have the flexibility to discuss the proposals with those bidding and allow them time to revise their bids.

That bill will also be heard for final approval on Dec. 4.

Reach Treena Shapiro at 525-8070 or tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.